- Canon Divergent
Tony sat in his private jet watching the news feeds as the evening progressed. There was to be another day of hearings but the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Riley, had postponed them due to Stern’s actions. Carmichael and the rest if SI legal were filing brief after brief with judges on every level they could. Demanding the file that Stern had under the Freedom of Information Act and requesting that the senator be investigated for breaching security clearances.
He placed a drop of blood on the miniaturized scanner and looked at the readings. They hadn’t risen much in the last few days, but he had run out of his chelation drink on hand. He’d been feeling off the last few days and he knew it was the palladium core in the reactor starting to break down.
He’d had Jarvis manufacture several new cores, knowing he would need them sooner rather than later. He needed to get to the lab and work out the puzzle his father had left for him to solve. It had to do with the Cube. The thing that he had held in his hand when he had been a child. He remembered it clearly because it had burned his hands. The word ‘Tessseract’ held no meaning for him, but it was obviously the name of the thing. Where the name came from he had no idea, but it didn’t matter. It was the key to fixing the problem of the palladium, he had to believe it or he was going to die in a very slow and painful way.
Instead of going directly to SI, Tony drove home to Malibu where he picked up the new cores. He hoped he wouldn’t need them right away, but he changed out the one in his body and felt the difference immediately.
“Jarvis,” Tony said tiredly. “I need a body scan.”
“Right away, sir,” Jarvis replied and activated the floor to ceiling scanner. “Might I ask what we are looking for?”
“Check the electrochemical pulses from my body and the cycles from the reactor,” Tony said staying still as the scanner revolved around him. “Compare the two against previous scans.”
“One moment,” Jarvis said as the scan continued. “Sir…” There was a hesitation in the AI.
“Do they correlate?” Tony asked, knowing the answer already.
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis replied. “Your body had adapted to the electrical cycles of the reactor. Brain activity and electrochemical autonomic functions that were dictated by your personal body chemistry has altered to mimic the cycles of the arc rector.”
“If we take it out for any extended period?” Tony asked.
“You could experience a cardiac arrhythmia or even a cardiac arrest as a consequence,” Jarvis replied.
“Great,” Tony sighed. “Right, lets not do that then.”
“A cardiac arrhythmia could be corrected with a defibrillator,” Jarvis suggested. “Your body’s ability to adapt to extreme physiological changes proves that you would eventually return to normal if you were to remove the reactor.”
“How long would it take?” Tony asked.
“Unknown, as we have only the fact that your body had adapted to the existence of the reactor,” Jarvis admitted. “The reverse should also prove true, but there is a chance that you may have become physically dependent on the reactor’s energy output. Much like humans who are given a pacemaker to control heart rhythm.”
Tony let that information settle in his mind for a few minutes. He knew there were risks to the reactor, he knew that there might be long term consequences to having it in his chest. That he might have to live with it in his body the rest of his life.
This new information was like a splash of cold water to his face, it shocked him and woke him up. Even if he was able to get the shrapnel out of his chest, he might never be able to live without the reactor.
“A message from SI labs,” Jarvis said, interrupting his thoughts. “The VSPA has been assembled and is waiting for your arrival.”
“Lets go,” Tony said heading to the garage. He chose to fly the Mark 4 instead of driving and took off to SI LA.
The model of the Stark Expo, once it was reduced to its primary structural elements turned out to be an atomic structure of an element that was not currently on the periodic table. It had properties that were similar to palladium, but with high energy conductivity and greater stability. It also was not a heavy metal in the atomic sense. It had the potential to revolutionize energy physics.
“This element is compatible with the human body and has higher energy production potential than the palladium.” Jarvis said. “It is more than suitable as a replacement.”
Tony stared at the three-dimensional rendering of the element. For just a moment, he was utterly grateful to his father. “Thanks, Dad,” he said quietly.
The creation of the new element, once he new what he was looking at, took almost no time at all. Creating enough of the element to be useful for his personal arc reactor, took a little bit more than an hour. It formed on the surface of an artificial crystal matrix and glowed with its own light, very similar to the light the Tesseract emitted. He carefully took the first wafer of material and placed it inside the housing of a new arc reactor he designed to replace his existing one.
Tony took out his existing arc reactor and slid the new one in without waiting, ignoring Jarvis’ hasty words of caution. He didn’t feel anything different at first, but then a rush of power ran through his body. He gasped and fell to his knees.
“Sir?” Jarvis called.
“God,” Tony said. “It tastes like coconut and metal in the back of my throat.”
“The reactor is cycling faster and cleaner than the previous model,” Jarvis said, though Tony barely heard him.
The sensation felt like he was being washed clean. It was like the best sexual rush combined with being plugged into a live wire. “Fuck!” His heart was pounding in his chest, his hands shook, and he closed his eyes as the world around him whited out.
Tony came to finally, he opened his eyes to find himself on his back in the middle of the lab. The lights in the lab were dimmed, but the light from the arc reactor was enough to illuminate the area around him. He pulled himself up slowly, looking around.
“Jarvis?” Tony called.
“I am here, sir,” Jarvis reassured.
“How long?” he asked
“You have been unconscious for two hours,” the AI supplied. “I was monitoring you the entire time. You where not in any danger.”
“Thank you,” Tony said, sincerely. “What was that?”
“The power of the new element is much greater than our initial estimates indicated.” Jarvis replied.
“No kidding,” Tony replied, looking down at his chest. “I think I’m going to need a filtering plate on the front of the reactor to cut down the glow. It’s like the difference between a standard light bulb and and LED.”
“The comparison is not inaccurate when you compare lumen to power expenditure,” Jarvis said, bringing up the power readings.
“Wow,” Tony said getting to his feet. “Make calculations for production, I want to be able to start making more of the element for the new arc reactor here and one for the office in New York.”
“I would recommend you return to Malibu to rest as you body is still adjusting to the new element’s output.” Jarvis said.
“Sure, sounds good,” Tony said tiredly. He turned to the workstation and began saving everything onto the server and shutting the experiment down.
“Sir, Carmichael is calling.” Jarvis said, sounding aggrieved. “He had been attempting to reach you for the past hour, but I have informed him that you were not available.”
“Put him through,” Tony said. “How is my favorite lawyer?”
“I’m fine,” he said tightly. “But I need you to get back to DC as soon as you can.”
“What’s going on?” Tony demanded.
“I have been coordinating with Jarvis and Ms. Potts to get the information on Senator Stern,” Carmichael said. “It appears he did receive a file from a SHIELD agent named Jasper Sitwell. The handoff occurred only a few hours before the committee meeting, so I doubt it was a coincidence.”
“What would SHIELD have to gain from this?” Tony demanded.
“If I had to guess,” Carmichael said. “It is to leverage you into becoming a member of SHIELD as asset.”
“That is crazy,” Tony said. “I’m a public figure. I’m the head of multinational corporation. I can’t just drop everything and join SHIELD, they are a bunch of spies. I’m not exactly known for being subtle.”
“True,” Carmichael agreed with a dry chuckle. “But I imagine they would have other uses for you and the Iron Man suit.”
“I can image as well,” Tony said grimly.
“There are a few other things we’ve found that are not safe to talk about over the phone,” Carmichael added. “When can you get here?”
“I’ll be there in a few hours.” Tony ended the call and headed toward his armor, but paused. “Jarvis, where is Rhodey?”
“Col. Rhodes is currently at Andrews Air Force Base, in Maryland,” Jarvis replied.
“Upload yourself into and power up the Mark II armor,” Tony said as he stepped backward and allowed the armor to close around himself. “We’re making a side trip.”
Col. Rhodes was just waking up when he heard his cell phone ringing in the tone that told him Tony was calling. It was a relief because his friend had gone radio silent after the Senate hearing. He couldn’t help but worry about what was going on with him. He’d been unusually quiet for months, not going out into public nearly as often as he used to. While Tony curtailing some of his behaviors was a relief on one level, it was disheartening to think of what had caused such dramatic behavioral shifts.
“Hey Tony,” James smiled as he answered.
“Rhodey,” Tony called, there was an odd noise in the background that was oddly familiar. “I hate to wake you up, but I got you a present.”
“Tony?” James sat up. “Are you flying right now?”
“Yep, I’m coming in for a landing, so you might want to pull your clothes on,” Tony said.
“What?” James scrambled out of bed, pulling on a pair of pants as the sound of the jet boots coming down filled the air. “Tony are you crazy?” The distinctive clang of the suit landing had a weird echo to it. Which was explained when he opened his front door and found himself staring at two Iron Man suits. One was the Tony was currently wearing, the other was the all steel model that he had seen in Tony’s lab.
“Good morning, Rhodey,” Tony said, lifting the visor. “I brought you something.”
“Are you fucking with me right now?” James demanded, looking from Tony to the silvery steel of the Mark II.
“Nope.” Tony replied. “This is for you. I have the biometrics set so that only you can fly it.”
“Why?” James asked, dumbfounded.
“Because,” Tony sighed. “I’m going to find out if I have to do something monumentally stupid. If I do I’ll need someone to be able to save my ass if things go south.”
“So you’re giving me the suit,” James reiterated.
“Yes,” Tony looked uncomfortable. “I’m going to allow it to be modified however you need it to be, but you can not mess with the HUD or any of the computer guidance systems. Also the suite will self destruct if anyone tries to make copies of the on-board systems.”
“Okay, I got that,” James said, his worry growing. “What are you about to do?”
“I’m about to make some noise,” Tony replied with a grin.
A military truck full of MPs and officers came around the corner of the base housing street at nearly full speed before it screeched to a halt just a few yards away. The MPs scrambled out of the truck, hands on their sidearms.
“Easy! Easy!” James lifted his hands and waved them off. “everything is cool here.” He turned to the ranking officer. “General Reid, I’d like to introduce you to Tony Stark.”
“General,” Tony nodded. “Sorry to cause a ruckus. I was just passing through.”
“Col. Rhodes,” Gen. Reid began. “What is going on.”
“I’m gifting my friend with this suit,” Tony said, pointing to the Mark II. “It is a stripped down model, but is fully functional. It is a gift to him not the Air Force. You try and mess with it beyond what is allowed and it will blow up in your face.”
“Why the change of heart?” the general asked.
“This isn’t a change of heart,” Tony said. “I will not give the US government the ability to build suits.” He looked the general dead in the eyes. “You saw the aftermath of my fight with the Ten Rings. I was doing pin point accurate targeting. No civilians were hurt by me during the conflict when I could just as easily leveled the entire area in less than five minutes with the weapons I had on board. Can you honestly tell me that if you put your best soldier in a suit like this, they wouldn’t be ordered to ignore possible collateral damage in order to take out a target?”
“No,” Gen Reid replied. “But we make decisions on the battlefield that we might not otherwise.”
“I was the Merchant of Death for over a decade,” Tony said. “I’m done with having my legacy be a pile of bodies. Tell the DOD, the Pentagon, and the President. Rhodey will pilot the Mark II. You can rename it anything you want, but the first time you order him to use it on civilian targets I will take it back with prejudice. Is that understood?”
“Understood, Mr. Stark,” Gen. Reid replied.
“Good,” Tony closed the visor. “Now I have to see a man about a lawsuit.” He took off again, leaving James staring up at the sky.
“So,” Gen. Reid said, drawing his attention back. “You want to move this to a hanger or do you just want to leave it here like a lawn ornament?”
“Let me put on my flight suit,” James said. “Tony said you need something between the suit and your skin or things start to pinch after a while.” He went to do as he said, worried to the point of distraction over what Tony said about bad decisions and lawsuits.
Tony flew to a private residence just outside of DC where he met up with Carmichael and several other lawyers. It was secure enough for their meeting and Tony used the suit’s jamming abilities to keep any surveillance from outside listeners.
“What have we got?” he asked as he stepped out of the suit.
“While you were off doing science we found something interesting,” Carmichael said. “The video of Sitwell giving Stern the file was a bit blurry but it was clear enough to tell that there was a hand-off. Jarvis was able to discern from several still photographs taken before and after the hearing that the file had Top Secret codes on it. Indicating it shouldn’t have been anywhere near that hearing.”
“Stern, as a member of the Armed Serviced Committee, had access to a certain level of secret and top secret material, but there is a limit,” Tony said absently looking over the files Carmichael handed to him. He scrolled through phone records quickly, catching a number that repeated several times. “Who is this?”
“Those calls were from Secretary of Defense Alexander Peirce to Nick Fury and from Fury to Agent Coulson,” Jarvis said. A time line appeared on a computer screen “The bulk of the calls occurred shortly after you were kidnapped in Afghanistan. Some directly after your escape and rescue, and then another bulk of calls when you eliminated Obadiah Stane and your announcement of your identity as Iron Man. There was a short time when there was little to no active communication, before you demanded your father’s property. The calls began again, but they were not about you sir, at least not directly.”
“What were they about?” Tony asked.
“Two subjects,” Jarvis said. “A scientist named Bruce Banner, whom it appears was working with General Thaddeus Ross, on what appears to be a new attempt to recreate the super soldier serum. The result, called Weapon Plus, was declared a failure.”
“In what way was it a failure?” Tony asked.
“From accounts of witnesses, including Betty Ross, Gen. Ross’ daughter and Banner’s girlfriend,” Jarvis began. “The general was unhappy with the lack of progress with Banner’s research. He threatened, not only to cut Banner’s funding, but to forbid contact between Betty and Banner. Banner injected himself with the serum and exposed himself to what was supposed to be a small dose of gamma radiation. Witnesses claim that Ross turned off the safeties and subjected Banner to a lethal dose. Banner’s subsequent transformation destroyed the lab.”
“Transformation?” Tony asked. Both he and Carmichael looked at the file. The lawyer looked confused at all the data, but Tony was genuinely horrified. “Gamma radiation? Seriously, he should have been cooked, but he survived and disappeared. General Ross has issued orders for Banner to be found and brought into custody. He claims that due to Banner’s transformation, he is no longer to be considered human and therefor is government property.”
“There is a classified video of the incident,” Jarvis said. “You have high enough clearances to view it.”
“Let’s table that for now,” Tony said, not wanting to be distracted. “Remind me to look up everything there is on both Banner and Ross. I’ve met Ross, he’s an ass. It also gives us a foundation on where Stern got the idea that he could simply own me.”
“Of course, sir,” Jarvis replied and continued down the list. “There is currently an on-going incident in New Mexico surrounding a large, unmovable hammer and an Einstein-Rosen bridge. Agents from SHIELD have confiscated the research of one Dr. Jane Foster and cordoned off a section of the desert in order to contain a possible extraterrestrial threat.”
Tony felt his brain stutter. “Mark that for further investigation as well, because wormhole theory is sexy as hell and I would love to be all over that when I’m not looking at unlawful incarceration. Also, aliens, great, but not right now.” He scrolled through the data. “This call here, what is that? It’s pinging off a satellite from the Arctic Circle.”
“An Arctic survey team has found the Valkyrie,” Jarvis said. “The contents of the plane were kept classified, but considering the level of security, and the coded transmissions…”
“Fuck,” Tony said eyes wide. “They found him.”
“What are you two talking about?” Carmichael demanded.
“The Valkyrie was the Hydra jet that crashed in the Arctic back during World War Two, supposedly killing Steve Rogers,” Tony said. “My father spend decades looking for the damned thing.”
“So, they found Captain America’s body?” Carmichael asked. “So what? Why bring up the concept of property and Project Rebirth? ”
“What if it wasn’t just a body?” Tony said, touching the arc reactor. “What if the cold allowed Rogers to survive? What if they leaked the information about me to Stern so that when they revealed his existence they would have already set a precedent. Between Banner, me and Rogers there would be enough genetic material to work with to do hundreds of tests. They’re still trying to create more super soldiers. If what happened to Banner is anything to go by, they never stopped.”
“That is a hell of a thing,” Carmichael said. “How many lives have been ruined by the pursuit of the perfect soldier?”
“Too many,” Tony said. “SHIELD wanted me to lie and tell the world that Iron Man was a body guard. A man whose identity I was unwilling to reveal, but was not me.”
“But they would know it was you,” Carmichael said. “They could try to use it as leverage, not only to control you but to control how you run your business.”
“But I wouldn’t play ball,” Tony said. “Now they are trying to control me through legal means as opposed to subterfuge. Senator Stern is either a pawn in their game or a willing participant in this shit.”
“That is not going to happen, Mr. Stark,” Carmichael replied. “I’m going to file an injunction, demand they cease their attempts to control you and your property. You have rights, and no matter what they think, your body autonomy is one of those rights.”
“You better add the names of Bruce Banner and Steven Rogers onto that injunction,” Tony said. “Banner doesn’t deserve to be hunted, no matter what Ross might think and Rogers, should not have to worry about being a lab rat, living or dead.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Carmichael replied. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to make some noise,” Tony grinned. “Jarvis, find out where they are keeping Rogers.”
“Right away, sir,” Jarvis replied.
“Don’t make them want to arrest you,” Carmichael warned. “That would make it harder to defend you.”
“We’ll see,” Tony said. He stepped into the suit and headed up into the sky.
End part 19